Practices must not gag the doctors they employ, says GMC

GP practices may be forced to change their employee contracts, following new GMC guidance on gagging clauses.

New GMC guidance says doctors must not sign contracts that prevent them from raising concerns
New GMC guidance says doctors must not sign contracts that prevent them from raising concerns

The guidance, Raising and acting on concerns about patient safety, states that doctors cannot sign contracts containing so called 'gagging clauses'. It also advises doctors on when they should raise concerns and how to approach a regulator.

GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said: ‘Our new guidance…makes clear that doctors must not sign contracts that attempt to prevent them from raising concerns with professional regulators such as the GMC and systems regulators, such as the CQC.

‘Those who promote or sign such agreements are breaking their professional obligations and putting their careers at risk.’

Once it comes into force on 12 March 2012, the new guidance means that GP practices must ensure all contracts they hold with partners and sessional GPs are free of gagging clauses, a GMC spokesman said.

Despite welcoming the guidance in principal, Dr Richard Fieldhouse, chief executive of the National Association of Sessional GPs (NASGP), warned that it could have a negative impact on the job security of many sessional GPs.

‘Only half of sessional GPs have a contract with their practice. This guidance might make practices more reluctant to give salaried GPs a contract,’ he said.

Dr Fieldhouse said that locums find it particularly difficult to raise concerns about a practice. He said they could be ‘bullied’ into keeping their concerns quiet because bad feedback from one practice could lead to a decline in the amount of work they would be offered locally.

‘As a sessional GP if you were to say something you are in a predicament. If a sessional GP some wants to become a partner in the practice next door, they can’t upset the practice they are in,’ he said.

GMC chairman Professor Sir Peter Rubin said that it was the responsibility of all doctors to report poor care.

‘We at the GMC feel it is the doctor with whom the buck stops. We’re saying "you do not walk by on the other side – you do something about it".'

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